Religious Oppression: Bantul Church in Indonesia Finally Granted a Building Permit

By ICC’s Indonesia Correspondent

06/16/2021 Indonesia (International Christian Concern) – The long struggle of a Pentecostal church in Indonesia, Immanuel Bantul Church, has finally ended. Even though the church has owned a building permit (IMB) to construct their church building since January of 2019, protests from the residents living around the church resulted in the Bantul regent, Suharsono, revoking the church’s IMB in July of 2019.

ICC has followed up on the development of this case and has communicated with Pastor Tigor Yunus Sitorus, the pastor and founder of the church.

Pastor Sitorus explained to a representative from ICC why the church’s IMB was revoked. The Bantul regent claimed that the Immanuel Sedayu Church did not meet the requirements stated in the Joint Regulation of the Minister of Religion and the Minister of Home Affairs (PBM) regarding the procedure for granting IMB for houses of worship.

Pastor Sitorus further explained how the regent stated that the pastor’s home was too closely integrated with the church and that the church services were not frequent enough.

In response to these claims made by the regent, Pastor Sitorus responded, “We do not accept the reasons given by the Bantul Regent…the reasons presented are typical reasons that we always hear stated by those who reject the establishment of houses of worship, especially churches.”

The regent’s refusal to grant the church a building permit is a denial of freedom of religion, and Pastor Sitorus is determined to continue to fight for his constitutional rights as a citizen of Indonesia. He is encouraged by the number of legal aid institutes and even a parliament member willing to lend him his support.

With this legal aid, Pastor Sitorus could come to a compromise with the Bantul regent about the building permit. The church ended up withdrawing the lawsuit against the regent and signing a letter of agreement stating that they were willing to change the location of their church.

According to Pastor Sitorus, “The decision to sign the agreement letter and withdraw the lawsuit is a form of our desire as church members and citizens to maintain peace in Bantul and throughout the Special Region of Yogyakarta. The peace of the area where we are means peace for us as we worship.”

The church has now obtained a new building permit for their building, which, despite having to move to a new location three kilometers away from the old one, is a relief for the congregation. Pastor Sitorus expressed his gratitude for those who helped the church by providing legal assistance and prayer as they navigated this problematic situation.

According to ICC’s representative in Indonesia, the experiences of Pastor Sitorus and the Immanuel Bantul Church are exemplary of the problems experienced by churches in Indonesia located in majority-Muslim areas.

ICC’s representative stated, “It’s no secret that in Indonesia, there are Muslim radical groups who always hinder the construction of church buildings in Indonesia even if the church has a building permit…[freedom of religious expression] is a constitutional right as a citizen of the Republic of Indonesia. Yet, strangely, the government seems to allow these situations to continue and even perpetuates them.”

There are many other churches in Indonesia still struggling to obtain a building permit due to religious discrimination. Perhaps the most notable example is Yasmin Church in Bogor, which received a permit this past week after waiting for over fifteen years. In addition, there are approximately fifteen churches in Aceh Singkil that the local government destroyed that have been waiting for permission to rebuild since 2015. In the meantime, their congregations must worship in makeshift tents.

Muslim-majority Indonesia still has a lot of room for improvement when it comes to granting building permits for minority religions.

For interviews, please contact Addison Parker: press@persecution.org.

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